The Buckeyes were originally set to fly to Illinois on Friday night, then audibled to an 8 a.m. Saturday flight ahead of an 11 a.m. Central time kickoff, pending the results of additional tests administered Friday. Now the program is staying put.
“We have continued to experience an increase in positive tests over the course of this week,” Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith said in a statement. “The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes is our main concern, and our decisions on their welfare will continue to be guided by our medical staff.”
All football activities have been paused, a move the university said was made jointly by Smith, Ohio State University President Kristina M. Johnson and football team head physician James Borchers, and in consultation with the Big Ten.
“We are certainly disappointed that tomorrow’s game against Ohio State was cancelled,” Illinois Coach Lovie Smith said in a statement. “… We hope the Ohio State players and staff who have contracted the COVID virus recover quickly so they can continue their season.”
Under a condensed eight-game schedule, the Big Ten stipulated that teams must play at least six games to contend for a conference championship. In that scenario, another canceled game means the Buckeyes would be eliminated from Big Ten title contention. Their game at Maryland two weeks ago was canceled after a coronavirus outbreak in the Terrapins’ program. Wisconsin was also eliminated from conference championship contention after Saturday’s matchup against Minnesota was canceled because of positive coronavirus tests among the Golden Gophers.
Before receiving the results of Friday’s additional tests, Ohio State’s athletic department confirmed “an increased number of positive tests this week” but said the number did not meet the Big Ten threshold required for canceling a game. The program recorded an almost 0 percent positivity rate since Aug. 11, according to Friday’s earlier release.
“I have spoken with Coach Day, and he is doing well physically,” Gene Smith said in a statement following Day’s positive test. “I feel terrible for Coach and for the members of the program who have been diagnosed with a positive test. Coach Day and this team have been true leaders in handling things so well throughout this pandemic.”
Alabama Coach Nick Saban tested positive this week after experiencing mild symptoms and will miss Saturday’s Iron Bowl against Auburn, with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian filling in. Saban had a false positive in October and was able to lead the Crimson Tide to a 41-24 victory over then-No. 3 Georgia.
The Pac-12, which was the last Power Five conference to begin playing football this season, has seen three head coaches test positive: Arizona State’s Herm Edwards, UCLA’s Chip Kelly and Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin. Coach Michael Locksley was among those in the Maryland program who tested positive as an outbreak caused the Terrapins to cancel their previous two matchups.
The deeper the college football schedule has gotten into fall, the more it has been affected by coronavirus cases. More than 40 games have been postponed or canceled because of the virus over the past three weeks.
Along with schedule flexibility in this unique year, the coronavirus has also encouraged outside-the-box thinking on the field. Vanderbilt added women’s soccer goalkeeper Sarah Fuller to its roster in time to kick in Saturday’s game at Missouri. Just days after leading the Commodores’ women’s soccer program to the SEC tournament championship, Fuller could become the first woman to play in a power conference football game.